Pittsburgh. AKA Blitz-burgh. AKA The Pit.
What apt nicknames. The latter because “Big” Ben Roesthlisberger would like to crawl into a pit and die. The former because the Steelers decided to abandon their normal well-designed game plan and adopt a blitz-heavy plan (at least it contained more blitzes than I would’ve expected). Perhaps they thought, like countless other teams, that they could pressure Tom Brady. Check out his stats, Brady is actually just on the good side of average, but what makes him a better QB than his stats suggest is his unflappability [NOTE: Tom Brady’s comparative stats have him in the top ten of quarter backs this year, please note that Billy Volek (TEN), Tim Rattay(SF) and Brian Griese(TB) should be considered much better QBs considering the team around them]. Now I know that the Steelers have a base 3-4 defence and so a linebacker crossing the line is not really a blitz. But on many downs I saw five and six guys cross the line. Also these were on long yardage downs. Tom Brady can’t be shaken on a pass rush and if you do sack him make sure you get your helmet right into his back (or maybe his elbow or knee) because otherwise he’ll just jump right back up and throw a 60+yd pass.
Pittsburgh has the fourth best pass defence in the NFL. So if the Steelers didn’t blitz they would have had a better chance of stuffing New England’s drive. Grrrrr. Pittsburgh also blitzed after every penalty that went against them. I can only assume this was caused more by “I’m gonna get you for that” mentality from the player’s point of view.
I must admit that I didn’t see New England’s normal ignoring of the rules. Although at one point there was a small scuffle between a Patriots OL and a Steelers DE that was broken up by the referees. Maybe Ref they were arguing because the OL was HOLDING tightly onto the DE’s shoulder pads?
Well enough of the sour grapes.
The game start temperature was -11.76C but no snow fell. Either way the Pats seemed to feel at home. And perhaps it was also because the Steelers were making them feel welcome. Down by 14 points near the end of the third quarter the Steelers had 1st and goal. Run, short gain. Pass, too high, incomplete. Run, no gain. 4th and goal, 14 points down against the reigning champ, a run or a pass if not successful will pin your opponent against his own goal line and you have the best defence in the league. Instead, it's a field goal. Maybe, I thought, it's a gonna be an onside kick? Nope. Pats drive for a field goal of their own, eat up lots of time and it's game over for the Pit. As the Steelers kicked their 3 points I heard a commentator (despite being in a noisy-ish pub, you can always hear a stupid commentator) say: "This is a good idea for th Steelers". How much does this guy get paid? Sigh.
The Pats first TD came from this play:
First Quarter Patriots16:49D.Branch 60 yd. pass from T.Brady (A.Vinatieri kick) (1-60, 0:09)
What an unromantic description. Here’s what really happened. The Steelers had 4-1 on the NE 49. Perhaps because they listened to me (I was saying they should go for it), the Steelers went for it. The Bus up the middle, no gain (NE were waiting for the run). The Bus fumbled and Mike Vrabel recovered. On the Pats first snap, they line up with a heavy formation, the Steelers were in a nickel man-defence. I don’t remember it being a play-fake but none of the Steelers backed off like they should’ve. David Givens apparently was the primary receiver on the play and ran a 5yard “in” route. He was surrounded by linebackers, but Deion Branch ran a “post” route up field and was single covered and made an amazing over the shoulder catch for a 60yd TD!!! (The exclamation points are necessary, I was a very cool play).
Back to the Pit.
Ben Roesthlisberger, offensive rookie of the year, the man whose name is so long that in Madden 2005 it is shortened to “Roethlisbergr”, threw three (3) interceptions. These interceptions lost the game for the Steelers.
If I was Bill Cowher that would be kinda cool. Also, I would have Big (Gentle) Ben watching game tape all off-season, tapes of Donovan McNabb. Big Ben, to me at least, is comparable QB to Donovan McNabb. They were #5 and #4 respectively in the league for passer rating. Both are big guys: Ben: 6’5” 241lbs; McNabb: 6’2” 240lbs (to put that into perspective DE Jevon Kearse is 6’4” 265lbs). If the Steelers can craft Roesthlisberger into a McNabb they’ll get their Superbowl, if they can get Roesthlisberger to where McNabb is now by next year, they could get two.
Other things for the Pit to remember: New England is a good team, but not that good. They were 17th in the league in pass defence. Everyone seems to be real scared of the Pats secondary, but they gave up 212.5yds per game (Tampa only gave up161.2). At 6’5” Plaxico Burress is taller than a lot of CBs and Safeties so pass him some lofty ones. Also make sure that you watch Antwaan Randle El.
New England played really very well on Sunday, but it still felt like a Pittsburgh loss rather than a Patriots victory. Maybe it was because the Patriots seemed to have no personality. They felt like a group of robots or an un-erring computer opponent in Madden. Pittsburgh had the old “war horse” carrying the ball, the young sergeant making the calls on the field, the moustachioed old general on the sideline, and the new-old Steel Curtain. The Patriots had…um…the whiney brat who threw a tantrum last year and now gets what he wants?
Wait a minute; I said no more sour grapes. Well, let’s all just look forward to the Superbowl.